The trouble with most literary people -- I mean academics and the like -- when they consider song craft is that they lack musicianship, or appreciation for the musical qualities of a good song. (They may love music & certain songs, but that's not the same thing.) When evaluating a song as poetry their first inclination is to excise the music and to see if the lyrics work by themselves as a poem. Inevitably, they are disappointed. They are then likely to put down songs and the songwriting craft as "bad poetry put to music", a "minor art", etc.
In a good song, lyrics and music are inseparable; in the writing of them, the latter evokes the former more often than the former evokes the latter. (That's at least my experience: nothing like learning a new chord progression to bring out a new song from me...)
If one were to do a truly faithful critique of a song, part of that job would be to look at certain chord changes or rhythms and see how they correspond to the emotional colorations of the words that go with. Most of these, of course, are purely intuitive on a part of the songwriter, as with most vocabulary choices in poems. Few literary academics have any idea the kind of discipline it takes to come up with a good bridge, how strictly honed diction has to be to follow the punch of a rhythm, and how much thought -- or feeling one's way -- can go into that. "Inspiration's great," Sheryl Crow once said, "but knowing the craft will save your ass." Couldn't be put by a better craftsman -- or woman.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Is Dylan Poetry?
I posted this comment in response to Andrew Shield's post about "testing" Dylan's lyrics as poetry by considering the lyrics on their own. Andrew in turn was responding to a discussion on Matt Merritt's blog on whether Dylan could be considered poetry. I'm sure I reacted rather swiftly & archly -- I don't think either of these guys particularly looks down on art of songwriting -- but anything suggestive of that kind of reductive approach gives me instant heebee jeebies. So I reacted.